20 Nov Top tips for new parents to help with wellbeing By Dr Tessa Crombie, Clinical Psychologist
I am a Clinical Psychologist, but also a new mum of a 3-month-old little boy. I am not an expert in maternal mental health but have drawn on my experience as a psychologist and as a new mum to come up with top tips for new parents to help with their wellbeing and mental health.
The first thing I quickly realised is that being a parent is hard work, really, really hard work! It is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job. It is incredible, but non-stop and nothing can really fully prepare you for it. Therefore, it is really important that as well as looking after the baby, you also take time to look after yourself – something which can easily slip to the bottom of the list.
Here are some top tips that may help:
- Ask for help –It is really important to get help and support from family and friends, so don’t be afraid to ask if you need something. This might be getting your mum to put a load of washing on when she comes over for a cup of tea or getting a friend to look after the little one so you can finally have a shower.
- It’s good to talk – Talk to your partner, family, friends about how you are managing and any worries or concerns you may have. Those that are already parents may have helpful tips and advice and will probably have experiences similar concerns.
- Plan one thing each day – This probably won’t happen in the early days, but once baby gets a bit older and you start to feel a bit more confident, it is important to start making some plans. Also, once the visitors stop coming, it can quickly feel lonely being on maternity leave. Try to have at least one thing planned each day, ideally something that will get you out of the house. This might be a small thing, like popping to the local shop, but then build up to meeting a friend for lunch, trying some classes or venturing further afield. Ensuring that you have activities that give you a sense of achievement and enjoyment are key to maintaining your well-being.
- Get to know other new mums – Building up a network of other new mums local to you can be a real lifeline when on maternity leave and can help keep loneliness away. You may have been to NCT classes and know people from there or have friends that have babies too. Alternatively, going to children’s centres, libraries and baby classes is a great way to meet new mums. Set-up a messaging group so you can share your experiences and concerns – They will be the only other people still up when you are feeding the baby at 3am and need to talk!
- Don’t stop being you – Many new parents, particularly mums, may have given up a lot in order to have a baby and this can be difficult. It is a huge shift from a job where you felt respected and valued to changing your fifth dirty nappy of the day! Once things feel more manageable with the little one, think about what values are important to you as a person and how you can ensure you keep these going while you are on maternity leave. This might mean becoming involved with local groups, staying in touch with work colleagues or reading up on things that interest you. Think about returning to things you used to enjoy, such as exercising again or continuing/starting a hobby.
- Give yourself a break – Lack of sleep and exhaustion will be a common experience in the early days. Make sure you rest when the baby is sleeping rather then doing the housework. Try and make some time for yourself while someone else looks after the baby e.g. have a nice bath, paint your nails, watch your favourite TV show.
- Its okay to have more difficult days – It can feel like there is a lot of pressure to enjoy every moment of your new baby. This is completely unrealistic! There will be days when things feel more difficult. You may have negative thoughts, such as you can’t cope or you’re not doing a good enough job. These are normal. It is okay to feel frustrated, sad, angry or bored. You are only human. On these days, it is important to follow the tips above; give yourself a break, talk to people, and ask for help. You could also try some Mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is a great way of helping you to focus on the present and to not get caught up in negative thoughts (see apps suggested below).
- Seek support/advice from professionals if needed – Finally, if you continue to struggle, make sure you use the professional advice available to you. There will be drop in sessions and support groups at your local children’s centre (e.g. breast feeding groups). You can talk to your GP or health visitor and they should be able to signpost you to the best place to get more help. If you need more specialist help fast then here at Reigate Psychology Service we have the expertise and flexibility to help. We can visit you at home and hold sessions over Skype for example.